Episode 27: Plato’s Timæus

A page from a medieval Latin Timaeus (Bodleian MS Digby 23 Fol. 52v)
A page from a medieval Latin Timaeus (Bodl. MS Digby 23 Fol. 52v)

This episode introduces Plato’s Timæus, a dialogue which has shaped the very bones of western intellectual culture. We discuss the place of the dialogue in Plato’s oeuvre, its reception history, and the most important ideas put forward in the dialogue vis à vis the history of western esotericism. These ideas are among the most powerful and enduring tropes of western esoteric (and non-esoteric) thought, and include:

  • the first narrative of a true ‘creator god’,
  • the first account of a creation in which time itself has a beginning,
  • the first known attempt to put mathematics at the basis of reality,
  • the first attempt at a mathematical astronomy AND simultaneously the first Greek account of the stars as stellar gods,
  • the first formulation of the human being as a microcosm of the cosmic macrocosm

A cool old armillary sphere

Other points covered include:

  • The problem of ordering Plato’s dialogues, with a brief rundown of the general scholarly picture of early, middle, and late dialogues,
  • The unique position of the Timæus as the only Platonic dialogue (partly) available in the Latin-speaking world throughout the middle ages,
  • A quick introduction to the Platonic ‘theory of forms’.

 

Works Discussed in this Episode:

Plato, translated by H.D.P. Lee, 1965. Timæus and Critias. Penguin, Harmondsworth.

Recommended Reading (and Listening):

Peter Adamson’s History of Philosophy Podcast has some great material on the philosophic-speculative side of the Timæus. In the context of this dialogue, the episode on Plato’s understanding of myth is also very interesting.

  • Cornford, F. M., 2014. Plato’s Cosmology: the Timaeus of Plato. Routledge, London.
  • Reydams-Schils, G., 1999. Demiurge and Providence: Stoic and Platonist Readings of Plato’s Timæus. Turnhout.
  • Reydams-Schils, G., 2003. Plato’s Timaeus as Cultural Icon. University of Notre Dame Press, .
  • Runia, D. T., 1986. Philo of Alexandria and the Timæus of Plato. Brill, Leiden.
  • Sorabji, R., 1983. Time, Creation, and the Continuum: Theories in Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. Duckworth, London.

On the relative dating of the dialogues, see

Kahn, C. H. (2002). ‘On Platonic Chronology’. In: Annas, J. & Rowe, C. J. (Ed.), New Perspectives on Plato, Modern and Ancient, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Themes

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